Are Bed Bugs Harmful to Pets?
The Ultimate Hitchhiker and Your Pet
Global diversification increases distribution of many types of microorganisms and pests. Bed bugs have officially gained the title Ultimate Hitchhiker. Animals can carry bed bugs as easy as any other pest, it just happens less often.
Bed bugs are a member of the genus Cimex. Every insect in this genus is a bloodsucker of one form or another. For example, one variety, called "bat bugs," feeds on bats. The type that infests most homes these days are of the genus Cimex lectularius, and they love human blood.
Do They Prefer Humans or Pets?
Many people feel confusion because bed bugs are known to dislike hair and fur and that they prefer a human host. It is true that they prefer humans and dislike fur. It is also true that they will take what they can get when they can get it. The scientific fact is that bed bugs can feed on any warm-blooded animal, so they are not going to let themselves starve just because they dislike fur.
In almost all cases, except a rare few, you are going to get bitten before your cat does. Bed bugs are the hungry wolf, and you are the grandma. They will not eat Little Red Ridding Hood (your cat) until after they eat grandma (you).
Unsuccessful Extermination Measures Put Your Pets at Risk
The main reason a cat gets attacked is because extermination measures have upset the bed bugs' natural feeding patterns. When you spray, these insects will look for areas that have not been treated. If you are unsuccessful in your extermination attempts, the bugs will climb into dressers and on top of curtains to find a safe place to hide until their next meal.
If you thoroughly spray your bedroom, bed bugs will look for a meal elsewhere. Spraying drives them away from human-occupied areas and straight to a pet's bed. They might also find their way to a chair or couch you like to sit in, or they might resort to munching on Fluffy, the beloved family cat. Keep in mind that even if your cat sleeps in your bedroom, he/she likes to get up and roam around at night. Bed bugs will jump on your cat and take a ride to different parts of the house, including back to the bedroom.
Vacuum pet's bed
Pay close attention to seams of pet bets. If a pet bed can be machine washed and dried for an hour, this is preferable.
Wash and dry bedding regularly
If your pet's bed is too large to be washed or the laundering instructions do not include washing, use a steam machine instead.
Steam bedding regularly
Dry bedding for at least 30 minutes
The best chance to kill them is to place the pet bed in the dryer for an hour.
Vacuum area regularly
Steam clean pet bed
If you cannot wash or dry your pet bed, use a steam cleaner to kill bugs.
Vacuum under pet bed and all areas around it
Not only do you have to get bugs off the bed, you need to clean all areas near and around pet beds.
Vacuuming does not kill them. If you do not empty the vacuum, they will escape. Seal the vacuum bag in a large ziplock bag and throw away. If there is no bag, empty contents into a large zip lock bag and dispose.
Seal trim, cracks, and crevices near pet bed
Use caulk to seal any crack or crevice in the walls near the pet bed. Try to avoid putting a pet bed around outlets.
Use Revolution on cats and dogs
Revolution is the best heartworm & flea treatment on the market. Studies show it may also help deter bed bugs from biting your pet.
Misconceptions to Dispel
Pets Can't Spread Them Around the House
False. Pets can carry bed bugs around on them. Bed bugs do not physically attach themselves to cats and dogs like ticks do, but they can take a ride and are willing to travel for their meal. If they are hungry and cannot find a human, they will find a pet, such as your beloved cat. If your cat gets up and moves, the insects will not leap off your pet because they cannot jump or fly.
They Only Eat at Night
This is false! Bed bugs do prefer to feast at night, however, if there are no nighttime meals available, then they will attack during the day. If you were hungry and could not find food, would you just go to sleep and say, "Oh well!" just because you prefer to feed during the day? Would you give up a meal just because your favorite dish isn't on the menu? No! You would find food whatever it takes. So, even though they will attack mostly at night, if hungry during the day, they will bite your cat or dog. They will also search for heat and CO2, and your pets have both!
Your Pet Can Detect Them Right Away
False. The bugs will sit there and munch on your pet, but your pet probably won't know because the bites are painless. The bite begins to itch much later and your cat or dog will begin scratching like crazy. This leads to irritation, hair loss, and infection.
Can They Make My Cats Sick?
Yes, they can indirectly make your cats sick. Bed bugs do not transmit pathogens to cats or humans, but cats are prone to developing a severe itch from a bite. Trying to keep a cat from scratching is futile, and because it is likely to scratch more intensely than a human, the cat can easily suffer from a skin infection that may make it very sick.
Do not bother trying to give your cat a bath. Aside from getting scratched head to toe and being subjected to your cat's evil eye gaze, it is only going to make matters worse. If your cat is attacked and begins to scratch excessively, call a vet.
Consulting a Vet
The two main things you want from your cat’s vet is:
- Something to stop the itching
- Antibiotics to ward off infections
One great product that you can use on your pet is Dermal-Sooth Anti-Itch Spray. I personally asked my vet about the best over-the-counter itch treatment for pets, something that would specifically work for bed bug bites. She recommended Dermal-Sooth because it numbs the skin while hydrating it. Many competitors' anti-itch spray only contain numbing agents, which dry the skin and can actually cause more itching! The hydrating action in Dermal-Sooth helps create a more long-lasting itch relief. You can pick up the treatment for $10-$18 depending on the size of bottle you buy.
Additional Ways to Protect Pets
Deterrent Kitty Litter
Silica kitty litter can help keep your pet bedbug-free.This type of litter contains less silica than diatomaceous earth (a popular bed bug killer), but it contains enough to deter bed bugs.
The best silica cat litter is Clear Choice Silica Crystal. This brand usually costs between $12 and $15 a bottle. The reason this is the best is because it only needs to be changed once a month for one cat, and twice a month for two. It absorbs odor well and kicks up only enough crystal to deter bed bugs without irritating your cat. Other brands kick up almost no crystals. Normally that is good, but not for our purposes.
When you are searching for a bed bug spray, make sure it is safe to use around your cat.
Protective Pet Bed Covers
Bed bugs are not likely to attack your cat unless they are taking extreme measures. You can also take extreme measures to protect your cat. A clever lady named Clara Miller designed a special pet bed that is like a mattress cover.
The Dog Bed Brotector Cover with zipper may not have the trendiest name, but the inside of the cover is treated with an all-natural pesticide. It permeates through the material to deter bed bugs, but keeps a pet safe. While this is designed for dogs, I have seen it work quite well for cats as well.
Once you have your pet protected, it is time to address the itching.
Forums around the web are filled with, “My vet said this…” and “My vet said that…” Not only is this secondhand knowledge that could be incorrect, but it also seems like everyone’s vet is saying something different. To investigate this further, I called ten local vets and asked them each the same series of questions about bed bugs. Some of them swore bed bugs do not attack cats. Others said they do attack cats, but that there is nothing to worry about. Some said the cat would need medication.
Bed bugs are a relatively new problem and because they have been dormant for so long, they are not usually included in the curriculum at vet school. Each vet is left to do their own research, and they all seem to have sources that say different things.
If your cat is not scratching, then do not worry about it. However, if it is scratching, then you want to see a vet. You do not have to tell your vet about bed bugs as long as your pet gets the care it needs. If the scratching is addressed, and you get antibiotics to prevent infection, then these treatments alone will suffice. But, it is probably best to tell the vet the truth because many vets seem happy to give a million other excuses for the itching, such as an allergic reaction to food or fleas.
From my own experience, flea and tick medications do not solve the problem. However, using the liquid flea and tick medication Revolution will help a little bit. Some people say to use diatomaceous earth on cats. It is an old-school flea remedy that works on bed bugs, too. Personally, I do not recommend using diatomaceous earth on your pet. Many people report that diatomaceous earth can cause further skin irritation and dryness. While it is a safe product, if you or your cat breathe it in, it can cause respiratory problems.